Tag Archives: medieval romance

Juliana Garnett – “The Scotsman”

27 Oct

Garnett, Juliana - The Scotsman
GENRE: Romance / Medieval
PUBLISHED: Bantam, 1998

WHY THIS NOVEL: Juliana Garnett was recommended by a friend.

She was the sworn enemy – and the woman he dared to love

Proud and fierce, Alexander Fraser fights for the lands and the title the English stole from his family–and for the Scots dream of freedom. Now he’s lost what’s closest to his heart: his younger brother Jamie, captured by the ruthless earl of Warfield. Determined to free Jamie, Alex boldly takes a hostage–the earl’s daughter Catherine. But the delicate maiden he locks in his craggy castle has more mettle than many men…and more passion than any woman he has ever known. Even as Alex and Catherine risk scandal and insurrection to indulge their desire, he knows he must someday give her up…or forfeit his brother’s life.

This is my second novel by Juliana Garnett and if her books were not oop (some are available as ebooks), I would try to get my hands on as many as possible. Both novels I’ve read so far by her drew me in with their sense for the time and history. The stories seem “real,” there is no sugar coating. Times were often harsh and required hard decisions, and therefore the characters’ plight seemed more moving and gripping even though the characters are part of a rather familiar plot for a medieval romance. The Scotsman was a joy to read.

Lady Catherine Wroth knows what her role in life is: make a favorable marriage for her father, the earl of Warfield. She knows she’s nothing more than cattle in this and that she has no choice in regard to that or other the important decisions in her life. Catherine must abide by what others decide for her no matter what her own wishes are. So when she is taken captive by a Scottish barbarian, to be exchanged for this barbarian’s younger brother who is her father’s hostage, it at first seems like she exchanged one prison for another – “a pawn in a game between two powerful men” (134).

Catherine spends the first few weeks in Scotland captive in a room. She’s allowed to read but other than her hostile attendant and an occasional visit from Alex, she has no diversion. Most of the time she’s alone. Alone with her thoughts and the realization how utterly worthless she is to her father who lets the ultimatum pass to exchange her for Alex’s brother even though Alex threatened with the loss of her virginity. And Catherine is alone with her growing attraction to the enemy and the realization that the enemy is human, too. And it is in this situation that she finally dares to – and has the freedom to – make a choice about her life on her own.

Alexander Fraser is caught between to evils: to lose his brother or to lose the woman he cherishes more than anything in his life. He is

[…] snared by his fierce desire to free Jamie and his fierce need for this woman. […] He could free Lady Catherine. And Jamie would die. Or he could hold her and pray that the earl would relent and consent to exchange hostages. And Jamie might still die. (161)

He knows that there is no future for him and Catherine with that kind of situation.

Too great is the hostility between Scots and English. Early on, there’s a scene with some Scots leaving the hall because Catherine is allowed to eat with them. It escalates after Warfield leads a brutal attack on the village near to Alex’s castle while Alex is away. Many Scots die that day.

This is months after Alex offered to exchange hostages and Warfield has yet of officially acknowledge it. The only one who tries to negotiate and get Catherine back is her brother Nicholas whom Catherine loves dearly. Nicholas is the only one (before Alex) who ever showed her affection. He even gets into trouble with their father because of their father’s relentlessness about the exchange of hostages.

The Scotsman takes place in the months leading up to the Battle of Bannockburn. The Scottish Borderlands were in turmoil, villages often attacked by both sides and burned, like Warfield did to the village near Alex’s castle and like Alex did to the villages near Warfield’s place. The times were harsh and the decisions one made had often dire consequences. Alex can’t promise Catherine that all will end well in such times and so he doesn’t say so. But he also can’t promise her that he would spare her brother should they meed one day on the battlefield. Times are uncertain and aren’t sugercoated and because of that, The Scotsman is the first book in a long time I wondered about how the HEA will be achieved.

Here’s a lengthy quote that showcases some of the things I love about Garnett’s way to write:

[Alex just demanded that Catherine swears to obey him and do as he told her to do if something happens]

Irate, she glared at him. “I was not in the habit of obeying my father, sir, so I see now reason why you wouldst think I will obey you. But”–she put up a hand to ward off his angry interruption–“as it will no doubt distract you in a fight to think I might come to harm if I do not remain hidden, I will do so–at your request.”
Outrage was reflected in his eyes, and his mouth thinned into a taut slash. “By all that is holy, Lady Catherine, if you do not swear to me that–”
“Hold.” She tightened the reins and her palfrey gave a skittish jump that removed Alex hand from her knee. She stared down at him coolly. “Do not make idle threats, Alex Fraser, for I do not stomach them well.” Pent-up anger and frustration burned her, and she returned hot stare for hot stare until he swore softly beneath his breath.
“Christ above…if ’tis what ’twill take to wrest an oath from you, I will respectfully request that you swear to me you will do as I bid you do.”
She smiled sweetly. “On my honor as Lady Catherine of Warfield and subject of King Edward, I do swear to you, sir, that I will obey your command should we be attacked.”
Resentment simmered in his eyes and tone. “If you find it that easy, I see no need for your delay.”
“Sir, I see no need for your demand, when all that ws required from you was courtesy.”
He drew another harsh breath, but an unwilling smile touched the corners of his mouth. “Check?”
An answering smile curved her lips upward. “Aye, and checkmate, sir.” (290/291)

[word in bold originally in italic]

No tossing curls or stamping of dainty feet in sight, no thought that she could help and by God she would. Instead, Catherine makes her point and gets her way in a manner I find much more appealing. I love that they use “sir” and “lady” when they talk to each other in public. They are both aware of appearances and their station. And I love that they are able to resolve a small misunderstanding by talking about it.

Verdict: I really, really liked it. (4,5/5)

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Juliana Garnett – “The Vow”

13 Oct

EDIT: Corrected the author’s name in the post title.

Garnett, Juliana - The Vow
GENRE: Romance / Medieval
PUBLISHED: Bantam Books, 1998

WHY THIS NOVEL: Jace recommended this author.

Sent by William of Normandy to quell a brazen Saxon rebellion, Luc Louvat believed his mission would be easily accomplished. For what foolish Saxon lord had any hope of triumphing against an army of seasoned Norman knights? But the great warrior was in for a shock..surprised first by the ferocious battle the wily old lord waged–and then by what he discovers when he meets his adversary face-to-face: no crusty, aging nobleman this, but an exquisite princess with a face as fragile as a flower–and a will as steely as the sword she wields. Suddenly Luc finds he’s waging a dangerous new war…aimed at the defenses of a fierce Saxon beauty who threatens to conquer his warrior’s heart.

The Vow is a leisurely told and subtle novel. The unifying element is of course the romance between Ceara and Luc. It marks the beginning and the end of the story. It also goes hand in hand with the suppression of the rebellion. But despite these clearly marked beginnings and endings, what happens in between seems only loosely connected and episodic in character. Reading The Vow was like watching a life unfold. The story covers quite some time and there is no rush between the major events.

Ceara and Luc meet when Luc is sent to end the rebellion. They soon realize they are attracted to each other although Luc is the enemy Ceara has vowed to hate and while Luc treats women well, he doesn’t like them because of his past experiences and is only interested in sexual relationships. Of course, Ceara and Luc are forced to spend time together and slowly, they fall in love with each other without descending into too much hate you-love you dynamics. Their love creeps up on them.

Along the way, there is a woman from Luc’s past who wants him for herself after he now is no longer just a mere knight (adding romantic conflict) and who shows up at Luc’s new castle together with Luc’s best friend. Then there is Luc’s brother who suddenly shows up and might or might not betray Luc again, Luc’s mysterious past, Ceara’s pet wolf, and of course the still simmering Saxon rebellion in the North with Luc and Ceara in the midst of it.

Ceara starts the novel as a young woman who accuses her father of cowardice because he swore fealty to William. After her father’s death, she can have her way. She’s a feisty package but despite that I never really understood why Ceara hated the Normans that much (beside her being a Saxon) I actually was okay with her. Her seemingly unfounded hatred of all things Norman might make her look feisty but she’s also a strong and often insightful woman. She knows what she wants and how to get it, and she isn’t chummy with everyone just because she’s the heroine:

“Do you dare risk being alone with me, my lord? I might be dangerous.”
Luc laughed softly at her testy tone. “You are most definitely dangerous. But I am a man who loves a challenge, unlike poor Giles. You have terrified the man.”
“Good. He is a spineless cur. I doubt he has ever used his sword for anything other than shaving, for he is as clumsy a cow as ever I have seen.”
“Nevertheless, you will cease tormenting him.”
“Why? It amuses me. And I have done nothing to him, save point out a few of his weaknesses. He will be a better man for it. You should thank me.” (79)

And for that I liked her. In addition, the story doesn’t gloss over the harsher aspects of war and rebellion and Ceara learns that not everything is as black and white as she believes at the start.

Luc has a past full of treachery (his father) and abuse. He starts the story as a mere knight. His order to crush the rebellion in the North is his chance to finally leave his tainted past behind and redeem himself. Luc’s determined to take it. He’s willing to deal fairly with those who swear fealty but he has no problems to take other, more drastic measures with those who don’t.

Even though I sometimes wished the romance and the rebellion plot would provide a more apparent focus for the story, The Vow is a well-written novel. I liked the way wolf imageries were used in the story, and I loved the way the characters talk and that characters were not always what they appeared (good/bad) to be. The Vow is a good medieval romance, especially because it creates a strong sense of history and atmosphere for that time.

Verdict: I liked it (4/5).

Kris Kennedy – “The Conqueror”

24 Aug

Kennedy, Kris - The Conqueror
GENRE: Romance / medieval
PUBLISHED: Zebra Books, 2009

WHY THIS NOVEL: Medieval + it got good reviews

England, 1152. Henry II is king. The country is wracked by bloody civil war. Griffyn Sauvage is a valiant knight with a strict moral code of honor. But when his family’s estate and vast treasures are seized, he becomes hardened by the betrayal. Now he will go to any lengths for vengeance–even if it means forming a union with his most despised enemy by marrying his daughter, Lady Guinevere de l’Ami. Then, Griffyn lays eyes on Gwyn and is completely disarmed…

As war strikes, Gwyn is left alone to fight her enemies who want control of her ancestral lands. When Griffyn comes to her rescue, she is grateful that the mysterious, brave knight has risked his life to protect hers. With each passing day, she finds herself drawn to him even as she senses he’s hiding a dark secret from her. And when another dangerous adversary closes in on both of them, Griffyn and Gwyn’s trust in each other will be put to the ultimate test…

I already wrote about why I had trouble getting into the story. There were too many things which strained my sense of belief (this is rather subjective, others might see this differently), I actually thought about quitting. I was willing to go on because I thought the author’s voice engaging, I liked the heroine and hero as a couple, and the romantic conflict promised to be good.

Sadly, to my more subjective problems with the novel in the beginning were added what I felt to be more substantial problems later on. For example, the pacing faltered a bit in the middle (especially compared to the mad dash in the beginning). In addition, and more bothersome to me, the two conflicts in the story relied too much on lucky coincidences to move the plot along, and overall, I had the impression that conflict, backstory, motivation would have benefited from more exploration. They were good but they didn’t make use of their full potential and therefore seemed muted.

At the center of The Conqueror is a conflict of loyalty. It’s 1152 and there are two men calling themselves king, Stephen and Henry II. Gwyn is loyal to Stephen, and Griffyn is loyal to Henry II. Gwyn and Griffyn also share a personal backstory. Both think the Nest, Everoot’s principal castle and the place where Gwyn grew up, belongs to them.

Gwyn and Griffyn meet one fateful night (I gripped about the events in the post linked above) and fall in love without knowing who the other is. The next morning, they have to part ways. They see each other nearly one year later and this time they know they are on opposite sides. Gwyn is one of the few nobles still loyal to Stephen and Griffyn is a trusted friend of Henry II. Griffyn and Gwyn meet again because Griffyn wants his home, the Nest, back (the place Gwyn lives and is lady of).

As if that wasn’t enough potential for conflict between them, Gwyn does something that puts Griffyn in grave danger in regard to his loyalty just before Griffyn shows up in front of her castle to take it back. What she does lets her keep her loyalty, but she not once worries about what her behavior means for Griffyn’s loyalty except on a personal level. So she worries about keeping a secret from him, but she doesn’t consider the larger picture and thinks of her behavior in terms of treason, treason for which Griffyn would be hold responsible. Therefore, when I read ” ‘I’ve said it all along, Gwynnie: you’re impetuous, but not stupid’ ” (381) I had to laugh because my impression was that Gwyn a) was impetuous and b) had no sense for politics. But despite the considerable potential for conflict between them, Gwyn and Griffyn can’t keep away from and their hands of each other.

The second conflict is Griffyn’s personal conflict. It ties in to why Griffyn thinks Gwyn’s home is rightfully his and to a mysterious treasure of which he’s to be the Guardian, something he doesn’t want to be. He also knows he needs three keys to unlock whatever that treasure is. The backstory concerning the Nest is rather hazy although everyone knows it except Gwyn. And the explanation what this Guardian business exactly is and how the Guardian is determined (and what it implies) comes very late and I’m still not really clear on it. So for much of the story, this is all very woo-woo.

The problem is, the POV characters who know about this don’t talk about it because they know it. Gwyn knows nothing but since she doesn’t even have an inkling that there’s something and she doesn’t wonder about the keys (she actually possessed two of them at one point) or wants to find out what use they have, this doesn’t help me understand it better.

Actually, from the pieces I got, I’m still trying to puzzle it out. Griffyn is called Charlemagne’s Heir and therefore he’s a Guardian. Is this to be taken literally or not? If literally, how come that Gwyn is a Guardian, too? If not literally, what made Griffyn’s father Guardian and how ties this in with the crusade? Was Gwyn’s father a Guardian? Why could he be one, why couldn’t Miles father (and Miles) be one, too? You see, I’m confused (and possibly just too dense to get it). But in any way, instead of upping the suspense and making me want to find out more by being vague about this Guardian business, I thought it annoying because it was too vague for me to figure it out.

On the plus side of this novel stands that it’s a medieval, that it has nice and likable characters, and that it’s written in an engaging and easy to read manner (though I have to say, calling Griffyn’s fingers thick made me think of sausages).

Verdict: An okay read. (3/5)

August, 21, 2009

21 Aug

The workers are still around and the noise they make is seriously interfering with my work. And reading time. I have trouble concentrating. In addition, I’m treated to more “men talk about women” talks than I ever wanted to.

Good thing the workers are supposed to be done on Monday. Let’s hope they keep to schedule.

Currently Reading

Kennedy, Kris - The ConquerorKris Kennedy – The Conqueror

This is a medieval – yay! – so chances are I would have bought it without the many positive comments I read about it. And because of the many positive comments, I know this novel was well received.

But, uhm, so far, I’m afraid I don’t get it. I’ve just finished part one (page 161) and I have two things that keep me from really enjoying this novel.

  1. An impetuous heroine who is somewhat of a dimwit
    I really hope my opinion changes but at the moment, I’m thinking the heroine is a dimwit. It starts with the heroine drinking liberally because when you’re in a tight spot and need a clear head about you there’s nothing better than get roaring drunk. She then proceeds to not realizing that as a rich heiress, the way to her father’s land is through marriage to her. She flees, and some time later the same night she’s rescued from the man who wants to marry her and went after her by a mysterious man, then brought to a safe place, and told to stay put and keep her mouth shut. The next morning, she’ll be taken to her destination (an abbey) by someone. Of course, she babbles and then has to flee again, going to some place else (not the abbey), only to land in an even direr situation than the one she’d left behind. When she’s rescued yet again and finally delivered to the abbey, she thinks something along the line: she couldn’t believe she finally made it there. Huh?
    For a woman who’s lauded as intelligent and in possession of a sharp mind it sure doesn’t show itself in matters of politics. To make it even worse, she later goes on to endanger someone dear to her because she just can’t keep herself in check and babbles again (and the plot needs to move along, I guess).
    She’s supposed to be one of those impetuous heroines but still, I hope this improves over time.
  2. I had no idea what could happen all in one night
    Nearly the whole first part of the novel covers what happens in just one night. The first chapter starts at sunset. By morning the next day, the heroine flew from London, got caught somewhere outside of London by the henchmen of the man who wants to marry her, took part in a fight against these men together with a mysterious rescuer, galloped somewhere to safety with this rescuer, mucked things up there, flew to another place with a stolen horse, got trapped there, got rescued by the mysterious rescuer again who also happened to be there, galloped to yet another place, had a bath, slept, lost her virginity and realized the mysterious rescuer is very probably the love of her life (the last two could be the other way around actually).
    Trying to get a time handle on all this made my head spin. Either horses are way faster than I think or the countryside was literally littered with houses, castles and whatnot at that time.

Clearly, The Conqueror is more on the fluffy side of medievals. No problem, I got it. And believe it or not, I’m looking forward to what comes next. Such is the lure of a medieval for me. It also doesn’t hurt that I think Kennedy has a rather engaging voice.